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Authors: Crystal Black

The War Game

BOOK: The War Game
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The War Game

 

 

 

Crystal Black

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Jay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Crystal Black 2012

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

CAMP A

CAMP M

SOCIETY X

CAMP Z
(John)

THE FINAL ROUND
(Pearl)

 

 

 

 

LET THE GAMES BEGIN {
Pearl}

 

 

             
I'd been sleeping in a bathtub for over a month. It wasn't so bad. I liked it. Besides, I'd gotten a tip from a guy back at the other camp that a bathtub was the safest spot to hide when people were shooting up the place.

             
The soldiers moved us around like markers on a chessboard. I'd slept at too many camps to count on one hand. (I still had both my hands, thankfully.)

Call me weird, but I really liked sleeping in a bathtub. I folded the blanket in half, put the pillows at one end, jumped in, and then folded the rest of the blanket over me. The only downside to this was the faucet. It got in the way of my feet sometimes. But most of the time I slept like a fetus. The sides of the bathtub hugged me like a womb.

             
I promised that if I ever found myself alive out of this war and got myself a house, or at least a cheap little apartment, I didn’t t
hink I’d bother with getting a bed. I’d take the tub.

The toilet, as well as the lock,
worked.
The napkin dispenser was full, and the water in the sink tasted of metal but that wasn’t a problem. Having the teeth knocked out of you could be a problem. Being transported to Camp Z could be a problem (so I’ve been told). Being an awful liar, could also be a problem.

             
I was happy to say that I still had all my teeth. Although one hurt pretty bad whenever I sucked on an ice cube (the only ice cubes that I saw in recent years were the ones that fell from the sky but hail can be toxic) or anything else cold.

             
Liars tend to not make eye contact, but the really good ones did. The ones that could look you straight in the eye often blinked too much, though. Or they overcompensated by not blinking. Or their ears turned red or they blushed. The trick to being a good liar was that the liar needed to convince him or herself that the lie is true. And in that way, they weren’t really lying. I was still an apprentice when it came to lying so I often relied on changing the subject with ease so I didn’t have to lie. Just neglected to tell the truth.

             
That’s how most people ended up in the camps. They sucked at lying. They also sucked at covering their tracks. There was this one guy, Jim, I knew way back. He was the hairiest guy I had ever seen. Hair on the back of his hands, his shoulders, just everywhere. Even on his nose. Like a werewolf. But he landed himself a seat right next to me in a former lotion and soap and bath stuff store at the big mall. He’d kept all the texts from his boyfriend, an elementary school teacher, on his phone because he liked to go back and read them.

             
I hated the smell of citrus, especially when it only emphasized the lingering scent of death. I smelled it on my hands for months after living in that bath and body store.

             
Jim said I was awfully young to be barricaded in the mall. I told him I had been labeled as an “at risk youth.” Then I told him about my moms. He said, “No one comes out of the closet anymore. We’re all kicked and locked back in.”

             
Then he babbled on and on for the sake of something to do. Mentioned that he used to come here when he was young and even applied for a job to be a mascot character at the theme park. But since the economy was basically nonexistent, and now that there’d been a surge in criminal activity (meaning my dead mothers, Jim, and the likes of us), a new prison needed to be built. But those cost money and this mall was losing money, so there we were. Metal doors held us in where the stores used to be. It felt like a people zoo. But eventually, the soldiers moved us along.

             
I tried my best not to get attached to anything or anyone. Though I did make friends with Jim and he wanted me to meet Todd someday. I had to bite my tongue right then because Todd probably wasn’t teaching anymore. Probably rotated through these camps just like I had been for the last several years. Teaching elementary kids was a double whammy for those like Todd. Probably shot on sight, if they were able to trace those messages back to him.

             
Jim promised me he’d find a way out and we would escape to Canada together. “Why Canada?” I had asked.

             
“Because you can in Canada.”

             
“Can what?”

             
“Whatever you want.” One of the last words he spoke to me before they shipped us off to different camps.

             
I kept my thoughts to myself. I still needed to practice lying and this is why I couldn’t talk too long to people. I couldn’t tell Jim that I would love to meet Todd because I had a feeling that whoever Todd was
was
. When I opened my mouth I started shattering every last shard of hope people had. It was easier to appear emotionally disconnected and cold.

             
But now I was here. I had all I needed in a four by ten room: a sink with running water, a toilet that had yet to overflow once, enough napkins to last me several thousand flushes, lots of snacks that have years left on their expiration dates, a scabbed and scarred hand (from breaking the vending machines to get the afore-mentioned snacks), pillows, a change of clothes, a big blanket (some people might refer to it as a painting tarp), a small window with bars on it, a book, things to trade with, and no last name.

             
No, I didn't and still don't know my last name. But it doesn't bother me and it shouldn’t bother you.

             
I also had a cat but dead now. It came with the bathroom. But it got sick and died. That was the only instance where I had to unlock the door since I’ve started calling this place my home. Its name was Dodsworth. He was a very fancy fellow, preferring only the finest of gourmet convenience snacks. I could smell him right now. I should have thrown him further down the hall.

             
I spent my time reading and rereading the packages of beef and cheddar sticks, strawberry-shaped fruit snacks, and vanilla wafers. On my first day there, I pulled a textbook on human anatomy out of the library because it had pictures of cadavers with their muscles exposed and everything. I thought it’d be pretty cool to read it but I could only get through a page or so at a time. I had to translate everything in my head and that process took too long. But I was learning a few things. I wished I was better at spelling. But who was I going to send a letter to; stamps are expensive at five dollars apiece. And the mailmen would just open it and toss it out anyway.

             
One thing I’d learned was that the brain stores everything. Everything. Well, it could possibly store everything. It was just hard getting it back out. I didn’t know what could be more dangerous. Looking into the future or looking into the past.

             
Both were looking pretty grim, I have to say.

             
Sometimes I got bored, itching to unlock the door and explore and find more books to read. But then another bomb fell somewhere close. A bomb is the best cure for boredom. I will never complain about being bored.

             
On my way there, I saw a man’s intestine hanging out of his stomach. It was gross and fascinating. And he wasn’t even dead. I think that’s why I got that particular book. I recognized the image from the book. Though I’m sorry to say that I would be recognizing more images shortly, as the bombs were not falling as far apart anymore.

             
But there hadn’t been a bomb falling in the last seven days. I kept track. I knew it was going to happen again soon. So that itching I was talking about earlier, about wanting to get out, was very strong now. Except I couldn’t cut the tag out of a shirt or slap on some salve to stop the itching.

             
Scratching the itch wouldn’t help, it might have made it worse. Running away was like a scratch-off card, you went to one place and scratched and no prize. Went somewhere else and scratched and no prize. You went through all the places, and maybe you might get a dollar back and you felt lucky. Until you reminded yourself that you had a dollar in the beginning anyhow and it wasn’t much of a win.

             
They had a weekly raffle at the lotion and bath prison. You did work for the soldiers, such as slapping “bio-hazard waste” labels onto plastic containers and you’d receive tokens. You would then use these tokens to bid on stuff, such as a sandwich or a bar of soap. Sadly, the people who I worked with at the camp loved it. Except me and Jimmy. Being able to “win” stuff made people temporarily happy, even if that prize was a pair of shoelaces. As long as they kept winning stuff, people didn’t feel the need to band together and take over the place.

             
I might have been able to safely exit this place, but what would the next place be like? Worse? Less offensive smells emitting from the hall? I doubt that the next place I go will have a bathtub.

             
This one guy yelled at me everyday. At the same time. I don’t know how he did it, no one I’ve seen or met had a watch. There might be one in just about every room at this place, minus the dorms, but they didn’t work. Just the water, toilets, and lights.

             
How did I know that this guy yelled at me at the same time everyday? Because I had a wristwatch. It was one of my few possessions to trade. Not that I was looking for something in particular but you know, I couldn’t ration these vending machine snacks out to the end of time.

             
For the lack of a calendar or any time-telling device that records the days or even the years, I counted the years by both winters. I hated winter and I hated the fact that people used to have only one winter per year, not two. It used to be in Minnesota that one day you might need to wear a sweater and the next day it’d get so hot you’d lay in front of a fan in your underwear in the comfort of your room. Now in Minnesota, one day you’d need your parka, boots, and snow shovel and the next day you’d be taking a bath in gallons of ice cubes with the air conditioning (if you were lucky enough to have that) cranked up.

             
The end of time. Time ended a long time ago, no pun intended. When we stood in line before entering the state university (I guess the college closed before Minnesota had yet to secede from the country, then the rest of the Midwest followed suit) they searched us and took all the electronics. Naturally, they wouldn’t want us to have anything that could communicate to the outside world (was there one left?). But I knew their other secret. They didn’t want us to know what time it is. Lose that sense and people will go crazy. They blacked out the windows and the glass doors and put guards all around the campus. People thought the windows were black so we couldn’t see out. But it was so the sun couldn’t get in.

             
They took away our valuables, food, clothes, watches, all of that and gave us guns in return. Though they didn’t just hand them to us, they hid them in the catwalk in the theater. They knew we would find them eventually.

             
The soldiers had probably figured, why should they have to be the ones doing all the work? War was a lot of work and a lot of money. So we did their work for them. Cut costs down. Also, made the general public less angry. They sure as hell didn’t care for us, but they didn’t want their soldiers to brutally murder people either. It looked bad. Other countries were a lot less likely to give the United States money and stuff. But it was okay when one of our own took out another.

             
Well, I didn’t, of course. When those guns were being distributed, people didn’t really care to question why the guns were there. People tended not to question at all.

             
I heard that once when a woman asked for some water, she was found dead by the toilets the next morning. Drowned, her head still in the bowl.

             
There was no way out of this place so using the guns on the soldiers wasn’t an option. I saw the others with the guns and the looks in their eyes and that’s when I decided to hide. No sense of time, heightened paranoia, and nothing to lose. It was never a good idea to toss a gun into the mix.

BOOK: The War Game
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